Ease Pain at the Pump With Gas Station Credit Cards?

Which gas cards stack up
Which gas cards stack up

If you want to turn a conversation ugly these days, just mention gas prices: Everybody's ticked.

But a just-released list of the best gas credit cards from the website CardHub.com offers a consumers a savings strategy that might temper their ire a bit, and none too soon, because according to U.S. Energy Information Administration projections, regular gas will average $3.86 this summer, up 40% from last summer. Given this, the EIA estimates that the average American family will spend about $825 more on vehicle fuel in 2011 than it did in 2010.

But for every pain there is a pill, and in this case, it might be signing up for a gas station credit card. Cards tied to particular chains provide savings of up to 5%.

Among the best cards according to CardHub are:

  • Shell credit card (RDS.A): 5% rebate on gas purchases made at Shell stations

  • BP credit card (BP): 5% rebate on gas purchases made at BP stations;

  • Exxon Mobil credit card (XOM): 15 cents per gallon rebate on gas purchases made at Exxon Mobil stations (amounts to 3.75% off on a $4 gallon).

Some general cash-back credit cards also offer particularly high reward rates on gas purchases, in addition to generous rewards on all other purchases. CardHub.com recommends:

  • Blue Cash Preferred from American Express (AXP): 3% back on gas purchased anywhere. $75 annual fee;

  • TrueEarnings Card from Costco (COST) and American Express: 3% back on gas purchased anywhere, up to $3,000 in annual gas purchases, 1% thereafter. No annual fee for Costco members;

  • Capital One (COF) No Hassle Cash Rewards: 2% cash back on gas purchases made anywhere. No annual fee.

While financial experts often advise avoiding credit cards at all costs, some can see the case for making an exception when it comes to filling your tank. "Gas is one of the biggest household expenses, so you are getting an effective 2% to 5% discount on purchases you already make," says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub.

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Obviously, of course, that's not to suggest that you should get wild and crazy with these cards. "Be sure that if you get a gas-station-specific card that it is to a gas station you already use frequently," says Papadimitriou. "It is not likely you will change your habits if you don't use a specific chain already, and that would make the card essentially useless."

Don't go close to your credit line, he cautions, and, as with all credit cards, be sure to pay your balance in full every month: Paying interest on your gas credit card will quickly cancel out any savings you get from the discounts.

Lastly, look too for cards with no annual fees. Though the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred has an annual fee of $75, which is obviously higher than the other cards recommended by CardHub, it's not an unusually high fee, adds Papadimitriou.

While the creative use of credit cards will by no means eliminate your gas woes, it's a far simpler than less drastic step than not driving or shelling out big bucks for a more fuel-efficient car. And every little bit helps.